Stevie Wonder: Madison Square Garden, New York, 11-17-07

After a moment of silence for 9/11, accompanied by his daughter Aisha Morris (the inspiration for “Isn’t She Lovely”), Stevie Wonder takes the stage. Wonder gives a shout to Kanye’s mom, sharing that he too lost his mother last May and reasoned that she would want him to “do what you do and tour.” With that, Stevie begins tuning the piano with his voice and goes right into “Love’s In Need,” with the crowd clapping along to the rhythm. His strong voice is a reminder that we are missing so much in today’s musical landscape. 

The crowd was speechless and just clapped along. This ain’t Hip-Hop; Stevie does all the work. With a funkier version of “Too High,” Stevie busts out the harmonica, and you know it’s all good. This song with addiction as a metaphor let’s you know that while Jay-Z and 50 Cent may be ahead of their contemporaries, they still have a long way to go to catch up with the master. “Visions In My Mind” sets a melancholy tempo. Stevie performs to complete silence, the crowd behaving until the refrain when they elect to scream for release. An anti-war, anti-poverty, Jena 6 freestyle brings people to tears. The emotion is bubbling over and we’re only three songs into the show. Sensing this, Stevie picks up the pace with the pounding keyboards of “Living for the City.” Now there’s dancing in the aisles and handclapping. Even the front row money seats are hooting and hollering. It’s a shame that he can’t see all the people standing and cheering for him. 

Ever the showman, Stevie got all Zapped on the talk box (shout to Roger Troutman) and goes through a medley of songs including “New York, New York,” “We Want the Funk,” “The Roof Is On Fire,” “We Are Family” and the seminal ode to Black triumph “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” “For Once In My Life” brings the first surprise of the night. Upon finishing his rendition – and much to the delight of the heterogeneous crowd – the irrepressible Tony Bennet took the stage to belt out his version. Total class, and the man can still belt it out. The place went crazy, but the night was still not over. He did a few more timeless classics and built his way to mega-hit “Superstitious,” when out of the crowd appeared the Purple One, himself, Prince to jam on guitar. This has gone officially past Bo Derek. 

The most poignant moment of the night (mirroring Kanye) was Wonder breaking down during “Always” – perhaps remembering his own mom whose passing was the impetus for this tour. He toughed it out in time to finish off his famous refrain; it was an appropriate moment of vulnerability. In a nutshell, Stevie Wonder’s performance was a clinic in musicality, improvisation, pace, rhythm, and showmanship, as well as timing and emotion. His joy is on full display, and though initially powered by death, this show is a celebration of life.